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ATBCB Testimony
Monday, March 13, 2000
Washington D.C.

Include Guidelines for
Accommodating People With MCS

March 13, 2000

Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
Office of Technical and Information Services
1331 F Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111

Re: 36 CFR Parts 1190 and 1191
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Architectural Barriers Act (ABA)
Accessibility Guidelines, Proposed Rule

Testimony Delivered by Phone to the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB)

Good afternoon. My name is Ann McCampbell. I am a physician who has been disabled with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) for over a decade. I am chair of the Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Task Force of New Mexico, a statewide advocacy organization comprised of hundreds of chemically sensitive New Mexicans. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to testify before the ATBCB by phone today on the proposed ADA guidelines. I am unable to attend the meeting in person because most buildings and forms of travel are inaccessible to me.

I am very disturbed by the lack of inclusion of accessibility guidelines in the proposed rule for accommodating people with chemical sensitivities, and indeed the lack of even mentioning this disability. This, despite the fact that people with MCS have been noted since 1991 in the ADA Handbook, published by the EEOC and U.S. Department of Justice, to be entitled to all the protections afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act when their impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities, a condition that is easily met by most people with MCS. This also despite the fact that MCS is recognized as a potentially disabling condition by the Social Security Administration and HUD.

I was recently told by someone from the ATBCB that the Board has formed an Ad Hoc Committee to look into "if" and "how" chemical sensitivity issues fall within the Board's jurisdiction, but it is inconceivable to me that the issue of "if" is doubt. MCS is recognized as a disability covered by the ADA, the EEOC and U.S. Department of Justice have ruled in favor of accommodations for those with MCS, and the world remains profoundly inaccessible to us. That is, most of us cannot go into hotels, restaurants, stores, schools, doctors' offices, hospitals, churches, theaters, courthouses, government offices, post offices, public restrooms, or attend public meetings. How can there be any question as to whether we are eligible for inclusion in the proposed rule?

I suspect that one reason the Board is hesitant to tackle accommodations for people with MCS is that they tend to be more complicated than say wheelchair access and the fact that there are wide variations in the amounts and kinds of chemical that are barriers for chemically sensitive people. But just because access for people with MCS is not simple and there is no cookie cutter one-size-fits-all solution, does not mean that it should not be attempted or that it is not possible to develop general accommodation guidelines consisting of the following two main categories:

  1. Requiring that construction, remodeling, and maintenance of buildings be done in a manner to maximize indoor air quality (IAQ). This would include building with least toxic materials and methods, like no VOC paints, substituting tile floors for carpeting, eliminating the use of particle board or using formaldehyde-free products; using hard rather than upholstered furniture; providing windows that open; eliminating the use of fragrance-emitting devices or products; using the least toxic cleaning and sanitizing products; designing buildings to exclude pests to reduce the need for pesticides and using baits and traps rather than sprayed pesticides when needed; fixing plumbing leaks to reduce pest and mold problems; venting copy machines and other fume-emitting machines; and properly maintaining the HVAC system.
  2. Validating MCS as a disability protected by the ADA and urging proprietors, employers, facilities managers, and government agencies to work cooperatively with people with MCS in order to work out accommodation solutions on a case-by-case basis. It is our vast experience that the biggest barrier for chemically sensitive people is an attitudinal one. Once an employer, business owner, or neighbor accepts MCS as a disability then it becomes much easier to work together to find practical solutions to access problems. Omitting chemical sensitivities from the proposed rule, on the other hand, will have just the opposite effect of further delegitimizing MCS, increasing the stigma and discrimination against those who have it , and making it infinitely harder to obtain reasonable accommodations, and indeed, survive.

In summary, I urge the Board to include guidelines for accommodating people with MCS in its proposed rules. Although it may not be possible to establish as many hard and fast rules regarding MCS as it is for other disabilities, it is crucial that at least some general recommendations be made, even if just to acknowledge the complexity of the issue. Recommendations could be made for how to build and maintain a least toxic building and a list could also easily be made of accommodations that have been successfully employed in other cases and which should be considered when a chemically sensitive person requests accommodations from a government agency, business, or employer. I and others in the MCS community would be happy to help the Board draft these guidelines.

Thank you for taking my testimony on this very important subject.

Ann McCampbell, MD
Chair, MCS Task Force of NM
(505) 466-2690 Fax

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